In the Beginning

A lioness makes a light snack of a baby warthog. Michel PolizaA lioness makes a light snack of a baby warthog
Much has been written in recent years about the Okavango Delta, but few of the writings have celebrated the phenomenon that makes the Delta unique in the world. The annual flooding of the Okavango may not sound like a great event but when all the intricacies are taken into account then a picture of a true wonder of is formed.

The flooding of the Okavango is one of the greatest stories in the natural world and it is only recently that it is receiving the recognition it deserves. It is an event that sees a river pouring its water out onto the sands of the Kalahari Desert and forming a life-giving oasis in the process. If that is not unique enough then the fact that this flooding happens at the height of the dry season, six months after the last rains in the area, should wash away all doubt.

Where Does Nature's Greatest Story Start

But where does the story of the Okavango Floods start? In any cycle there is usually a time that can be considered a starting point, but so unique is this phenomenon that it is difficult knowing where to begin. To begin when the floodwaters arrive would mean ending in the build-up to this dramatic event, and so to best depict this incredible natural phenomenon we will start at the end of the dry season, a time of the hottest temperatures in Botswana and a time when the water on the floodplains of the Okavango Delta are evaporating fast. This is a time when the wilderness seems to slow down and save energy for the days of plenty with the coming rainy season.

The peak of the floodwaters in the Okavango is in the dry winter months but as September passes into October, and the heat reaches a crescendo, the water begins to recede, with the levels dropping hourly. The burning sun takes its toll, and the floodplains shrink to pools, but with the heat come interactions as dramatic as any time during the cycle of the Okavango. The drying pools, cut off from the flow, trap large numbers of fish and crustaceans, providing a feast for thousands of birds.

The Orgy of the Suffering

Storks, Herons and Egrets join Pelicans and Eagles in the mayhem. When a pool is cleared, save for the very large fish, the birds simply move on to another drying death trap. The pool hosts an orgy of feeding and squawking until the birds move on to the next pool, leaving a faeces-stained area, adding morbid colour to the eerie silence that descends.

Personal observations have included seeing Jackals and Hyenas taking part in the orgy, and reports have indicated that lions will scavenge the pools on occasion. The larger fish that survive struggle for the ever-dwindling resource, and wait out the time that the pool cakes dry or for the arrival of the floodwaters.

Even in this period of suffering, however, is a promise of a coming time of plenty, a time when the local rainfall will refresh the earth and bring the wilderness to life. As each day passes the sky is smudged in cloud, thickening by the day until the sound of thunder and the scent of a distant rain storm is carried on the breeze.
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